Monday, April 07, 2008

God's Angry Men

“The wider and deeper becomes our knowledge of the inner life, the more will
our power increase to hold in check and guide our original desires. Wilson, on
the contrary, repeatedly declared that mere facts had no significance for him,
that he esteemed highly nothing but human motives and opinions. As a result of
this attitude it was natural for him in his thinking to ignore the facts of the
real outer world, even to deny they existed if they conflicted with his hopes
and wishes. He, therefore, lacked motive to reduce his ignorance by learning
facts. Nothing mattered except noble intentions.”
-Sigmund Freud writing about Woodrow Wilson, who once remarked to a fellow politician: “God ordained that I should be the next President of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented it.”

Nor the rest of the “reality-based community” no doubt. Wilson often reminds me of the current President, who is also aloof, narcissistic, unquestioning, and seems to have the same relationship to his all-powerful father: half-worshipful, half-rebellious; both of them ultimately replacing the all-powerful father with an all-powerful God. Wilson’s Fourteen Points read like a sermon to Europe, without being in the slightest sense practical. Bush, of course, has given the same sort of sermons to the inhabitants of Iraq, with the same lack of practicality. And both men exhibit the same weird priggishness. Wilson claimed to have been most-often mistaken for a minister by strangers in the street. Bush doesn’t seem quite as prissy, but it’s rarely commented upon that, for all of his macho posturing, there’s something vaguely gay about Bush. (I say that, incidentally, fully aware of how often I myself read as a little gay.) Lastly there’s the same undercurrent of contempt for their contemporaries, who apparently lack their particular wisdom.

It’s worth remembering, when we talk about the perception that America has lost its status in the world, just how much this turn of events is related to Bush, and therefore how likely it is to change in the years après Bush. This is a time for stocktaking around the world, and perhaps in the US as well, although I’m skeptical that American attention can be wrenched away from Obama’s politically incorrect priest or Hillary’s imaginary snipers. But, watching Bush, as his term approaches its end, it’s most incredible just how happy he seems, as if the events of the last seven years have hardly registered with him. Convinced that he is on the right side of “history”, understood by him as having a direction and endpoint guided by divine providence, he seems oblivious to just how badly the decisions that he made have faired out in the real world. The occupation, or semi-colonization, of Iraq is going great, the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to the US, real Americans vote Republican, and the economy will improve if we just cut taxes yet again. Oh and this is a great time to be a Republican.

I suppose this is why John McCain, a man who has always struck me as a fundamentally decent individual, now strikes me as absolutely the wrong man at the wrong time. If America has lost its status in the world with Bush, it certainly won’t regain this status with Bush Lite. And if Obama has any advantage over McCain, it would be in the fact that he not only inspires his supporters; he also seems to inspire a surprising level of patriotism in them. It is both weird and amazing to see crowds of liberal Democrats chanting “USA! USA!” at his rallies, especially given their relationship with the larger culture over the last decade. And it’s exactly the same overseas, where his candidacy seems to resonate with an idea that people have of the US as a place where the smartest guy in the room can become President based on his merits. McCain doesn’t inspire belief in the American dream or America itself with anyone that I can see.

But, at least, he doesn't seem to think God selected him for the job.


Holly said...

Somehow in your last paragraph you've jarred loose something that's been bugging me for a while about Americans and that international status thing... it's that America has that same attitude about that, that Sarko had toward the guy at the fair. "What, you don't like my style? Well, fuck you, pal! Who the hell are you, anyway?"

Sure, the president of France pulled this with some guy, but Americans are pulling it with, oh, the rest of the world. It's a scale thing. Sarkozy doesn't need that one guy; America doesn't have shit without the rest of the world to lord it over.

The Pagan Temple said...

That's a great book about Wilson, by Freud and a guy named William Bullitt. I still have it, and recommend it highly. You're right, there are a lot of parallels to Wilson and Bush.

As for McCain, you have to worry about a guy who tells you in a speech he's going to bomb another country to the tune of a Beach Boys song.

Rufus said...

Holly: I think the best way to describe why the French are already sick of Sarkozy is that he's "a little douchy". He recently announced that France is sending more troops to Afghanistan... while in England without having mentioned this to the French government or letting them vote on it. So he's that way with the French too.

But, yeah, it's weird. I get a number of students who write these essays that make me think that they honestly believe that every other country in the world is just a little pathetic by comparison to the US. Honestly, I just don't notice much difference quality-wise anywhere I've been. Of course, I've only been to three countries.

Patrick: Yeah, I actually just discovered it in the French National Library and read it during a break. It's a lot more fun than most books I've read about Wilson.

The Pagan Temple said...

That one line about how Wilson would stand before Congress and "thunder like Jehovah" was priceless. According to Freud, he was one sick puppy, with some really serious daddy issues.

He seemed to want to run the country more like he was Prime Minister, and Congress should have acted like Parliament.

I can't help but wonder what Freud would think of Bush and some of the other characters we've got now.